Extend the Life of Your Furniture

By Adriele Graham

May 22, 2020

I don’t know about you, but when I moved into my first apartment the reality of what furniture costs knocked me off my feet. I know what you’re thinking “but you’re an interior designer?!”, the thing is that in design school they don’t want to drag your creativity down with the reality of things like budgets, so I just didn’t have a concept like everyone else of how expensive things are. I mean, I was already grappling with the fact that I was now in charge of paying all of my bills and the idea of having only gorgeous, all wood, sustainable, and locally made furniture was not worth it to me if all I could eat was Ramen Noodles for 5 years. If I’m really honest, I couldn’t afford to do it even if I was ok with the Ramen scenario.

I had to accept the reality; all I could afford was Ikea. If you find yourself in the same position then know that it’s not so bad and you also don’t need to feel so environmentally guilty about it like I did. Even though Ikea pieces have been deemed the “throw-away” furniture brand, I want you to know that it doesn’t have to be. I want to share ways that I’ve found to help your box assembly furniture last so that when you are ready to upgrade, you don’t just chuck them away, but instead utilize them in another way.

Build inexpensive furniture like you want it to last and it will (mostly). My first Ikea purchase was a set of Billy bookcases and they’ve moved with me from Maryland, to Boston, to Denver, and guess what, they’re still with me! My secret you ask….wood glue! I used it on every connecting surface and it has really done it’s job of keeping those thin particle board bookcases in great structural shape even after 5 different moves. The other thing I did with them was treat em’ right. Nothing beats tender love and care in any category of life or home.

I remember reading this budgeting book out of college that explained a basic budget rule, “take care of what you have and you won’t need to spend money to replace it”. That has always stuck with me and rings true when it comes to inexpensive furniture. So, if you don’t want to use a coaster on your laminated Ikea nightstand, then spend a little extra for a glass top so you don’t just inevitably ruin it over time.

I’m not saying that you should go furnish your whole apartment with Ikea. You can invest in a good quality piece here and there and sprinkle some Ikea in. Looking at antique stores, estate sales and online listings are also great inexpensive ways to find quality pieces with character to add. I bought a beautiful mid-century modern Hooker walnut desk at an estate sale for $20 for that same first apartment and yes, I still have it. Actually, my husband painted it and it’s currently being used as a changing table in my daughter’s nursery.

Why is all of this even important?

Isn’t the idea that box assembly furniture is just throw-away furniture that you can get rid of when you are ready for something new?  I want you to ask yourself, why does that have to be the case? Hopefully, you’ll be able to invest in more and more quality pieces over time and as you do you can then utilize your more inexpensive fillers in other areas of your home. This saves you money, keeps you from having one of those huge houses that has furniture in only 50% of the spaces, and saves the planet by not contributing to our overstuffed landfills. My original Billy bookcase system is now in my craft room housing art supplies. The first area rug I bought for the living room was replaced by a better rug and the first rug was moved to the guest room. The metal shelf I used in my college dorm is holding yard games in my shed.

When you can, buy quality items, but don’t feel guilty for going for some inexpensive options in between. Maybe you’re moving into your first apartment out of college or you’re just filling in a kid’s play room. Do what you can to build it good and build it strong. Set yourself up for success by buying things like glass tops or using table clothes for paint parties. When you’re ready to move on, utilize the piece somewhere else. You can even upgrade it with simple things like new hardware, a decorative liner, or paint. The sky is the limit.

When you are truly done with any of your furniture let friends and family know. Someone may be moving into their first apartment and would love your vintage dining table that you’ve moved on from. Same goes for donating. There are Arc and Habitat Restore drop offs that will give your pieces the chance for a whole new life.

Live your fullest!